As summertime approaches, millions of people are preparing to jet off on vacation and take some time off to unwind and enjoy life. But the reality is that many of them are also taking their smartphones or laptops with them, and furtively checking their work email from the beach.
You probably already know that it’s bad for your stress levels and will leave you less rested and less productive when you get back. But there’s another reason why leaders in particular should resist the urge to check email on vacation.
First of all, here are the startling facts about email use and abuse.
A recent study by HR consulting firm Randstad found that 42% of employees feel obligated to check their email during vacation, while 26% feel guilty even using all of their vacation time. The email compulsion was stronger among younger employees, the study found.
It’s part of a broader problem: the blurring of the boundaries between work and personal life. A survey of 1,000 workers by Good Technology, for example, revealed that 50% checked work email while in bed, and 38% “routinely” did so at the dinner table.
Yet research shows that it’s important to take a complete break from email sometimes. Doing so makes people less stressed and more productive.
The Real Reason Why It’s Such a Bad Idea
While most of the coverage of email abuse focuses on individual employees’ stress levels, however, there’s a much more powerful reason why people in leadership positions should take a clean break from email every once in a while.
To put it bluntly: You need to take a break from email, so that your staff can take a break from you.
Think about it. If you’re constantly checking email while on vacation, what message are you sending to your team members? You’re saying that you’re indispensible, that things will fall apart without you. You’re saying that you don’t trust them to handle things by themselves.
This may surprise you. After all, it’s generally a good thing to be a hands-on boss, and to be available to your staff. But it’s about balance. By all means be available for 50 weeks of the year, have an open-door policy, and support your team however you can. But for those two weeks while you’re on vacation, just let them get on with it. In your absence, your staff will have to figure things out for themselves, and will learn things and feel more empowered in the process.
Your Employees Don’t Always Need You
Not convinced? Have a look at this research by academics at Harvard Business School and Rice University, which found that hands-off management could improve employee learning and decision making. In an extensive study in the casino industry, they discovered that tight monitoring resulted in less risk-taking and experimentation, whereas when employees were given more latitude, they often made decisions that increased the company’s performance.
While this study was of casinos, the authors believe the findings are transferable to other industries. And indeed, recent research by a different Harvard professor, Ethan S. Bernstein, found that factory workers were more productive when they weren’t being monitored by managers.
The reason? When workers knew they were being observed, they focused on showing the boss what they knew he or she wanted to see. When they weren’t being observed, they focused on doing their jobs in the best way they could, using more initiative to get the job done faster.
“We assume that when we can see something, we understand it better,” Bernstein says. “In this particular environment, and perhaps many others, what managers were seeing wasn’t real. It was a show being put on for an audience. When the audience was gone, the real show went on, and that show was more productive.”
So if you take a break from email and let your employees make their own decisions, you’ll reduce their reliance on you, give them more responsibility, and make them more productive and engaged.
And there’s also a side-benefit. By abstaining from constant contact, you’re also signaling to your staff that it’s OK for them to switch their smartphones off when they go on vacation themselves. You’ll increase the chances that they’ll take proper, restful breaks and come back refreshed, stress-free and more productive.